Smartphone Spy Reality: What Bosses Can Really See

A breakdown of how much of employee personal information is accessible to employers once they start accessing company data.

Smartphone Spy Reality: What Bosses Can Really See

By Chad Brooks, Business News Daily Senior Writer July 18, 2013 04:56 am EST

The NSA isn't the only one that has Americans nervous about their privacy. Many employees worry that accessing company data on their smartphones and tablets means their employers can see their personal data. The good news is that those fears are somewhat overblown.

A study by mobile security provider MobileIron revealed a significant gap between what employees think their employer has access to and what they really do. For example, 15 percent of employees who use their personal mobile device for work think their company can see their text messages when, in fact, this is not technically possible on platforms like Apple's iOS .

On the other hand, only 28 percent of those surveyed think their employers can even see their company email, when, in fact, all company email is accessible to employers because it travels through company servers.

Overall, 15 percent of workers aren't even sure if their employer can access any of the data on their personal smartphones and tablets they use for work, while 44 percent know they can, but don't know exactly what they can see.

To help employees better understand, MobileIron compiled a list of information that can be accessed. The data employers can actually see includes:

  • Carrier and country
  • Make, model, OS version
  • Device identifier (e.g. IMEI).
  • Phone number
  • Complete list of apps installed
  • Location of device
  • Battery level
  • Storage capacity and use
  • Corporate email and attachments (via Exchange server same as PC)
  • Corporate contacts (via Exchange server same as PC)

Despite suspicions to the contrary, the personal data employers aren't able to look at includes:

  • Information in apps — unless the app has been built to transmit information to a corporate server
  • Personal email and attachments
  • Texts
  • Photos
  • Videos
  • Web browsing activity
  • Voicemails

The study found that in order to increase employees' trust in their employer's commitment to protecting privacy, those surveyed wanted clear communication. More than a quarter of workers said the most important thing is to explain in detail the purpose of seeing certain information on the device, and how they separate personal content from work content.

Other steps workers would like to see their organizations take: provide written notification about what they can and cannot see, and ask their permission, in writing, before any data is accessed.

The study was based on surveys of nearly 3,000 employees in the U.S. U.K. and Germany.

Chad Brooks is a Chicago-based freelance writer who has nearly 15 years experience in the media business. A graduate of Indiana University, he spent nearly a decade as a staff reporter for the Daily Herald in suburban Chicago, covering a wide array of topics including, local and state government, crime, the legal system and education. Following his years at the newspaper Chad worked in public relations, helping promote small businesses throughout the U.S. Follow him on Twitter .

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